Biden and Trump debate in 2020.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump and then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the final 2020 presidential debate at Belmont University on October 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee.

(Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)

Debate Tip for Biden: Attack Trump on Social Security

At Thursday’s presidential debate, Trump should be questioned about his Social Security statements and actions, and Biden should be given the opportunity to explain what Democrats will do.

At this week’s presidential debate, U.S. President Joe Biden should talk about Social Security whether asked directly about it or not. Biden’s and former President Donald Trump’s positions are radically different. As are the positions of the parties they lead. But the mainstream media fails to report the stark difference. Consequently, the American people are left in the dark.

It is crucial that the American people know where the candidates stand before the November election. The most recent Social Security Trustees Report projects that in 2035, the then-nearly 81 million beneficiaries will experience a 17% overnight cut in their monthly benefits—under the unimaginable scenario that Congress does not act to prevent it.

There is absolutely no question that the president and Congress will act. It would be political suicide to do nothing.

Biden should promise that if reelected, he will push to expand benefits while requiring the uber-wealthy to pay their fair share.

For about half of seniors, Social Security provides the majority of their income; for one in four, it provides virtually all of their income. There is no way that they and their families would quietly accept an almost 20% cut. If the president and Congress failed to act, not only would those politicians be voted out of office, they would not be able to show their faces in public without getting accosted and chased down the street.

Again, the question isn’t whether the president and Congress will act. The question is what they will do, when they act.

Biden and his fellow Democrats have a plan. It is to expand benefits and eliminate Social Security’s projected shortfall by requiring those with incomes in excess of $400,000 to pay their fair share. The Social Security actuaries have already determined that the numbers work. Every indication is that Biden and his allies are ready to act on it, in the open, next year. If Democrats regain the House of Representatives, the Speaker will be Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) who has cosponsored Social Security expansion legislation and will bring it up for a vote next Congress.

In sharp contrast, although Trump claims that he is the one Republican who will not cut benefits, he opposes raising additional revenue. That only leaves cutting benefits—either legislatively or automatically, when Social Security’s reserves are depleted in 2035. Indeed, not only is Trump against increased revenue, he has made clear that he plans to cut his own and other billionaires’ taxes, if he once more becomes president.

Biden has stated plainly that he will veto legislation that cuts Social Security’s benefits. Notably, Trump has not made a similar promise. Moreover, there is no question that the Republican Party wants to cut benefits, but also doesn’t want to say so directly. The party’s most recent platform, in 2016, states: “As Republicans, we oppose tax increases and believe in the power of markets to create wealth and to help secure the future of our Social Security system.” That implies–though doesn’t state explicitly–that the Republican Party is advocating benefit cuts and privatization.

Republicans in Congress are even clearer. The Republican Study Committee, which includes 80% of all House Republicans and 100% of House Republican leadership, every year releases a budget with deep, draconian cuts and radical, transformative proposals for Social Security. Its FY 2025 budget slashes Social Security’s already inadequate benefits by $1.5 trillion in just the first 10 years.

Those are much deeper cuts than are necessary to eliminate Social Security’s projected shortfall. And they would occur much sooner than if Congress did nothing whatsoever. Even worse, the Republicans have plans to end Social Security as we know it. They are using the excuse of a projected shortfall to undermine Social Security, their true goal.

And despite his rhetoric, that is Trump’s goal, as well. Every one of his budgets as president included Social Security cuts. In an unprecedented move, he unilaterally sought to defund Social Security’s dedicated revenue, which would have led to deeper automatic cuts. Fortunately, Biden became president before the lost revenue could be made permanent.

Tellingly, Trump surrounded himself with a vice president and cabinet full of Social Security arsonists, and appointed a no-show crony to head the Social Security Administration.

Trump’s true attitude about Social Security should not be a surprise. Before running for president, Trump trashed Social Security, calling it a Ponzi scheme. He supported privatizing Social Security and raising the retirement age, with the condescending remark, “How many times will you really want to take that trailer to the Grand Canyon?”

But he also showed he understood how deeply unpopular his positions are even with Republican voters. In 2011, Trump told Sean Hannity that Republicans “are going to lose elections” if they “fall into the Democratic trap” of advocating cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid without bipartisan cover.

At the presidential debate, Trump should be questioned about his Social Security statements and actions. And Biden should be given the opportunity to explain what Democrats will do, if he is elected to a second term.

If past debates are a guide, though, the moderators may not ask a question about Social Security. If they do ask about it, Biden should be prepared.

If the question calls Social Security an “entitlement,” Biden should explain that Social Security is an earned benefit, not a government handout. If the moderators talk about Social Security running out of money, he should explain that unless Congress were to change the law, Social Security will never run out of money. It is current-funded, which means that as long as people are working and contributing to Social Security, there will always be money to pay benefits.

If they challenge the idea of providing, and indeed expanding, benefits to those who don’t “need” them, he should explain, again, that these are earned benefits, just like people’s salaries. Indeed, they are deferred compensation. It is well past time that our policymakers vote the American people a raise.

Even if not asked directly about Social Security, Biden should talk about it. If asked about the deficit, for example, he should make the point that Republican politicians claim that they want to cut Social Security to reduce the deficit—even though Social Security does not and, by law, cannot add even a penny to the deficit. And proceed to point out the stark difference between the two parties on Social Security.

Biden should make the point that whether to expand or cut Social Security is a matter of values, not affordability. He should explain that Democrats want to expand Social Security, while Republicans want to cut it. Democrats want billionaires to pay their fair share; Republicans want to throw more tax giveaways at billionaires.

Biden should promise that if reelected, he will push to expand benefits while requiring the uber-wealthy to pay their fair share. Indeed, he should let the American people know that protecting and expanding Social Security will be a top priority in his second term. And he should warn the American people that Donald Trump is lying to them when he claims he won’t cut their earned benefits.

President Biden has been the most pro-seniors president in at least half a century. Donald Trump was a disaster for seniors, and would be even worse next time. The American public deserves to know this, so they can vote accordingly.

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